Political Hay

Chu Him Out

The "Nobel Prize-winning physicist" pleads stupidity on Solyndra.

By 11.17.11

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"The American people… just like your teenage kids aren't acting in a way that they should act," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in 2009. Chu was comparing Americans to heedless youth for resisting the left's environmentalist decrees. The comment came as the Energy Department embarked on a nationwide tour of 6,000 schools to hector children about "climate change" and as it propagandized the "broader public about how important clean energy industries are to our competitive position in the global economy."

Lecturing the American people on responsibility and global economics was a comfortable stance for Chu at the time. Americans were expected to genuflect before his lab coat. He was, after all, an unimpeachable man of science -- a "Nobel prize-winning" physicist, as the Obama administration repeated with comic frequency. How could he possibly be wrong about the promise of green jobs? Besides, another brilliant thinker, Van Jones, had vouched for Chu's program. (Obama saw in this aspiring Marxist an expert on what makes economies hum and made him "green jobs czar.")

But now Chu finds himself sitting before Congress as the subject of lectures on irresponsibility, having been exposed by the Solyndra scandal as far more reckless in his spending and judgment than any wayward youth. The Nobel Prize-winning physicist and his patron, the Nobel Prize-winning president, pooled their intelligence to come up with a loan guarantee program that, by the time all is said and done, will have squandered billions of taxpayer dollars on bankrupt companies tied to their political and ideological cronies.

Convinced of the rectitude of their environmentalist cause, the two remain as unrepentant as arrogant teens. "No, I don't," said Obama when asked in October if he regretted his support for Solyndra. "I'll stand by those words," Chu said on NPR this week when asked about his remarks at the Solyndra groundbreaking. Chu had bragged about the "unprecedented speed" with which he was granting loans to "promising" companies that "hesitant investors" weren't supporting.

Those hesitant investors look pretty good right now and Obama and Chu look stupid. But in their minds they still stand on the side of the angels and thus should be exempt from any criticism. Judge us by our intentions, they basically say. Their attitude about "green jobs" is the same as their approach to "climate change" regulations -- they consider them the "right thing to do" no matter how much economic destruction might follow in their wake. Of course, they don't think those adverse consequences should touch them or their political donors. Obama and Chu made sure to leave the Solyndra bill for the American taxpayer rather than George Kaiser.

Obama and Chu claim that they could not have anticipated the company's problems (one would have needed "clairvoyant" hindsight, Chu has said) even as they boast of the brave risk they took by supporting it. "And what we always understood was that not every single business is going to succeed in clean energy," Obama has said. It was a noble failure, they say -- a noble failure that they didn't want anyone to know about. Hence, the frantic attempted bailouts and restructuring of the deal. And now it has come out that Chu's Department of Energy instructed Solyndra to conceal its layoffs until after the November 2, 2010 elections. Solyndra complied, releasing the information on November 3.

The press continues to indulge Chu's man-of-science routine even as all the evidence trickling out shows him to be a political hack and hubristic ideologue. Press accounts that appear designed to save his job cast him as "naïve," as if he were too busy fiddling around with experiments to participate in any political mischief. The truth is that he likes to play the trendy pol. The unfolding scandal into which he has fallen is exactly what one would expect from an overrated scientist with that personality type.

An egotistical nerd excited to be a political player and drunk with the power of environmentalist ideology was bound to get into this kind of mess while pooh-poohing the very warnings from lesser mortals that could have saved him from it. OMB officials had told him Solyndra was a bad bet but Chu knew better. Chu figured that he could teach himself any subject, including venture capitalism.

It is clear from Chu's NPR interview that the internal White House e-mail containing advice from a former Obama campaign adviser to the effect that Chu is politically and managerially inept and should be sent back to the lab has hurt his pride. He implied his critic was a nobody who didn't know his talents or his adroit handling of the Energy Department. Yet this departmental visionary finds himself in the awkward position of having to explain the Solyndra debacle on grounds other than political or ideological favoritism. Thinking that innocent incompetence is an easier and more respectable explanation than hubris and corruption, the Nobel Prize winner is essentially pleading stupidity.

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author of No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.